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Lib Dems demand dedicated funding strategy for crisis hit Cardiff schools

Group leader of the Liberal Democrats group at Cardiff Council, Cllr Rodney Berman (Pic: Rodney Berman)

A COUNCILLOR has warned that schools will be bracing themselves for more “funding woes” after calls for a dedicated funding strategy for Cardiff schools was voted down.

The Liberal Democrats group at Cardiff Council put forward their motion at a full council meeting on Thursday, January 25, with the group’s leader Councillor Rodney Berman pointing out that school staff are in “despair” over the situation facing their institutions.

It comes after dozens of schools in the city set deficit budgets as they continue to grapple with more complex issues and increased pressures.

The motion was eventually amended by the council’s Labour group to instead call on the UK and Welsh governments to support local authorities with more funding.

Cllr Berman said it was “hugely disappointing” that the Labour group voted down his group’s motion.

He said it called “for a budget strategy to be brought forward that could ensure the proportion of the city’s schools having to set deficit budgets in future could be substantially reduced”, adding: “I know many schools across the city will be very frustrated by that outcome and will now be bracing themselves for more funding woes to come.”

One special needs school, 35 primary schools and two secondary schools in Cardiff set deficit budgets for the 2023/24 financial year.

Cardiff Council’s cabinet member for education, Cllr Sarah Merry, said her group amended the motion to “draw out the path that we have been on with education”.

Labour’s amendment noted that Estyn inspections of schools across the city have generally improved and that Cardiff recently became the first UNICEF Child Friendly City in the UK.

The amendment adds that education has been a “key priority” of the Labour administration, with education and social services accounting for 66% of the council’s budget in 2023/24, and that it will continue to do so.

Cllr Merry added: “Schools across the UK, across Wales and across Cardiff are all suffering a perfect storm around attendance, ALN increase and costs.

“This resolution… we are not just pointing the finger at the UK [Government]. We talk about the things we can do as a local authority.

“We also [talk about] the things that Welsh Government can do.”

At last week’s full council meeting, Cllr Berman again raised concerns about the level of borrowing being undertaken by Cardiff Council.

The local authority is contributing £27m towards a 15,000-seater indoor arena planned for Cardiff Bay. This contribution will be paid for by earmarked capital funds and borrowing.

Cllr Berman said: “At some stage, these deficits need to be revised instead of being allowed to grow larger… each year.

“The arena is lovely to have, but can we afford it this time?”

Liberal Democrats councillor Robert Hopkins said “children experience school only once in their lives” and that “we must ensure that schools have the resources they need”.

Cardiff Council’s cabinet member for investment and development, Cllr Russell Goodway, emphasised that the indoor arena scheme is an invest to save project.

Responding to comments that the £27m for the arena should be going towards schools instead, he also noted that the council is not proposing to spend the whole sum next year.

He added: “I want to emphasise that that £27m is provided to manage the early years risk… it is a contingency sum.”

Cllr Goodway also cautioned that backing out of the arena project now would cost the council millions of pounds.

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